North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

A New Division, An Old Rivalry

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I’m not that old, but I’m old enough to remember a few things about the way the NHL used to align their teams. I remember when there was four divisions, each named after a figure from hockey’s distant past. I remember when the playoffs had a weird divisional structure, which led to a lot of cool Edmonton/Calgary and Montreal/Quebec City series. And I remember when Toronto and Detroit played in the same division and had something approximating a rivalry.

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 6.42.33 PMLooking back, seeing Toronto in the Western Conference was weird as hell. Toronto’s an Eastern Time Zone team and trips to the left coast, while fun to listen to at night, are a lot of fatigue on the team. I’ve heard people blame these road trips for two Leaf playoff collapses in the mid 1990s. And playing a best of seven, with the last three games a home-away-home going from one coast to the other, doesn’t seem like an altogether unacceptable excuse, right?

That’s the first thought to cross my mind when thinking about this new, proposed NHL alignment plan. It’s cleaner than the six divisions we currently have. It gives a lot of cross-pollination for cities that aren’t in the same division right now: Columbus/Pittsburgh, Washington/Philadelphia, Minnesota/Winnipeg. It removes that weird stigma of having Winnipeg in the Southeast division and sticks Columbus in the East, where it probably should’ve been all along.

And the biggest: Detroit isn’t just in the East, they’re in the same division as Toronto! The last time that happened, Toronto met them in the playoffs three times, all three of which were pretty good series. There’s the 1993 series everyone remembers, but in 1987 it went to a seventh game and the year after, Toronto lost in six. The media’s hyped up rivalries on far less hockey than that.

Yeah, I’m excited for this new plan, even if it means Toronto plays in Florida a lot more often. Detroit is a city that should be a natural rival for Toronto in sports. It’s a shorter drive than Montreal or Ottawa. The Tigers used to be the Jays big rival – ask any fan old enough to remember the end of the 1987 season and you’ll get an earful – back when the Jays actually had rivalries. And there’s a ton of expat Red Wing fans scattered throughout southern Ontario, thanks to their run of success in the past two decades. This could be a lot of fun.

The four divisions are nice, too. Right now, the conferences don’t count for anything more than scheduling. And while I don’t expect the NHL to return to the Adams/Smythe/Patrick/Norris division names ever again, having four divisions feels more natural than six, especially if they return to divisional rounds in the playoffs. Considering how hard the NHL likes to push rivalries – it was the reasoning behind this year’s schedule – I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NHL go back to it. It’d help with travel, too: only a couple of teams would have a lot of travel in the first two rounds of the postseason. There’s a potential drawback for letting a weak team into the postseason (like some of those Leaf teams in the late 1980s) but that happens now anyway. With a 16-team postseason, you’re going to get one or two teams into the postseason that aren’t very good.

Everything about this proposal feels pretty good. But so did the last proposed realignment, but the NHLPA voted it down. I’d like it a lot of the NHL adopted this, but I’m not going to hold my breath, either.


A little while ago, Flashfact died. Which sucks, but so it goes. But it means Extended Play back in full swing, with book reviews every Monday (most recently: Steven Bach’s book on the making of Heaven’s Gate and the fall of United Artists), music stuff every Wednesday and occasional posts by Flashfact alums like Joey G, Brett Yanta, Jenn and others. So please, by all means, check it out!


Written by M.

February 26, 2013 at 9:26 pm

One Response

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  1. Go leafs go.


    April 16, 2013 at 8:56 pm

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